Background: The use of smartphone apps to monitor and deliver health care guidance and interventions has received considerable attention recently, particularly with regard to behavioral disorders, stress relief, negative emotional state, and poor mood in general. Unfortunately, there is little research investigating the long-term and repeated effects of apps meant to impact mood and emotional state.
Objective: We aimed to investigate the effects of both immediate point-of-intervention and long-term use (ie, at least 10 engagements) of a guided meditation and mindfulness smartphone app on users' emotional states. Data were collected from users of a mobile phone app developed by the company Stop, Breathe & Think (SBT) for achieving emotional wellness. To explore the long-term effects, we assessed changes in the users' basal emotional state before they completed an activity (eg, a guided meditation). We also assessed the immediate effects of the app on users' emotional states from preactivity to postactivity.
Methods: The SBT app collects information on the emotional state of the user before and after engagement in one or several mediation and mindfulness activities. These activities are recommended and provided by the app based on user input. We considered data on over 120,000 users of the app who collectively engaged in over 5.5 million sessions with the app during an approximate 2-year period. We focused our analysis on users who had at least 10 engagements with the app over an average of 6 months. We explored the changes in the emotional well-being of individuals with different emotional states at the time of their initial engagement with the app using mixed-effects models. In the process, we compared 2 different methods of classifying emotional states: (1) an expert-defined a priori mood classification and (2) an empirically driven cluster-based classification.
Results: We found that among long-term users of the app, there was an association between the length of use and a positive change in basal emotional state (4% positive mood increase on a 2-point scale every 10 sessions). We also found that individuals who were anxious or depressed tended to have a favorable long-term emotional transition (eg, from a sad emotional state to a happier emotional state) after using the app for an extended period (the odds ratio for achieving a positive emotional state was 3.2 and 6.2 for anxious and depressed individuals, respectively, compared with users with fewer sessions).
Conclusions: Our analyses provide evidence for an association between both immediate and long-term use of an app providing guided meditations and improvements in the emotional state.
Keywords: emotional well-being; mental health; mindfulness; smartphone.
©Argus J Athanas, Jamison M McCorrison, Susan Smalley, Jamie Price, Jim Grady, Julie Campistron, Nicholas J Schork. Originally published in JMIR Mental Health (http://mental.jmir.org), 08.05.2019.